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dred

"Perle believes that we were attacked on 9/11 because we were perceived as being weak due to "our failure to respond" to previous attacks, which is a complete farce."

care to explain how that idea is a complete farce?

Mitchell Gore

Hmmmm... I think you are misunderstanding what the term "soft power" means. It isn't simply a synonym for non-military power. Negotiating a peaceful resolution is not really about exercising "soft power".

"Soft power" is a concept within international relations that refers to power which comes from economic or cultural means. Also referred to as co-optive power, it allows nations to exert their influence without using military means.

An example of this would be the United States influencing the world through its economic and cultural power. For example, the globalization of American culture can be seen in the world-wide appreciation for Coca-Cola, Hollywood, blue jeans, etc. The possibility of joining the European Union with all the attached economic benefits persuaded Turkey to eliminate the death penalty is an even more compelling and explicit and example.

Soft power is contrasted with hard power which refers to power which comes from military sources or threats.

The term "soft power" is credited to political scientist Joseph Nye, the Don K. Price Professor and Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Soft power is an important part of current Chinese strategic thought, and much effort has been spent in the People's Republic of China of quantifying soft power as part of an overall index of comprehensive national power.

I agree that Perle's dismissal of the validity of that is not only telling, but the fundamental problem with the neo-conservative ideology vis-à-vis foreign policy. There simply is not enough bullets in the world to have security without the use of "soft power". Dean was spot on, when he begins to talk about how we were successful in the cold war because we offered an appealing and viable path for other countries, in which they could see by example that our apporach and national interests could facilitate and enrich their own. Not at the point of a gun, or threat of economic isolation, but through positive engagement and showing that we offer a viable path to their own national interests, and an alternative to competing political/economic/military ideology or doctrine.

Our democratic ideals have been the hope of the world-but our allies increasingly see us as abandoning those ideals. Where we once defined our national self-interest in terms the whole world could embrace-favoring strong global institutions, due process, and the rule of law-we now seem to be thinking more narrowly in terms of our immediate military and economic security. Where we once supported international alliances such as NATO and the United Nations, we now deem those institutions irrelevant or even a hinderance. Where we once contained our foes, we now launch preventive attacks on potential threats. More and more, we act alone, with little regard for, or even awareness of, the needs and goals of other nations.

If you ever get the chance to read Clyde Prestowitz's book "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions".. you well see a very clear exploration of this reality. Rogue Nation is not an argument against American dominance or the exercise of American power. It's an argument against stupidity, arrogance and ignorance in the exercise of power. Prestowitz explores the historical roots of the unilateral impulse and shows how it now influences every important area of American foreign policy: trade and economic policy, arms control, energy, environment, agriculture. In every area, he argues, a multilateral approach, consistent with our humane and liberal core values, is also in our long-term best interests.

Prestowitz was also an advisor to Dean during the primaries, and while he forthrightly calls the United States an imperial power, Prestowitz is by no means a "lefty", as he was a former Reagan Administration trade official with an impeccable paleo-conservative record as well as being an unapologetic evangelical Christian.

His insights have had an obvious impact on Dean's thinking in a positive way.

Mitchell Gore

"care to explain how that idea is a complete farce?" - Posted by: dred | February 19, 2005 08:22 PM

While not speaking for the person you are quoting, it is a nonsensical statement by Perle. It is analogous to saying the guy who wants to kill me because he (rightly or wrongly) sees me as wanting to kill his family and defile his neighborhood and religious/cultural traditions (no matter how radical and extremist those beliefs may be) only shot me in the leg because I didn't bomb this crap out of the neighborhood he was hiding in when he broke my car window a few years back while I had driven my car up on his lawn.

Do you think al-Qaeda would not have tried to carry out 9/11 if we had invaded Iraq in 1996...?

Just curious, are you aware of what the SAVAK was in the 60s and 70s in Iran...?

dred

does Dean not understand the theory of comparative advantage?

He is completely lost when talking about trade.

Sid

dred-

Yes, I will explain why I think Perle's statements about us being percieved as weak, which supposedly led to 9/11, are a farce.

Al Qaida would have attacked us anyway. If not on 9/11, at some other time. I just don't believe that we we're perceived by Qaida, or anyone else, as being weak. What Qaida did was they found our weak spots in airport and airline security. They're probably looking for other weak spots in other areas now. That's where we have to be one step ahead.

According to Richard Clarke, our weak spot now is cyber security. Our power grids run on computer systems, our dams, the FAA, etc. Clarke believes that if the terrorists were able to seriously infect our nation's systems with an incurable computer virus, it could wreak serious havoc. He says it's possible that they could shut down the electrical grid for six months. Imagine that... just imagine it. Our whole economic system would convulse. Our communication systems would be down. Everything would be down. He claims that even though money is being spent on trying to keep our systems safe, not enough is being done.

So, you asked about me claiming that Perle's statement was a farce? Qaida's not going to stop until their recruiting pool has vanished. It won't matter how many countries we drop bombs on or invade.

Sid

Mitch,

Great insight. Yes, I do understand soft power. I was an International Studies major and learned all about it. Didn't clarify so well on my post and misused the term when writing about how Perle wants China to deal with N. Korea.

Mitchell Gore

Comparative advantage is bunk as it applies to real world "free trade".

The main problem with comparative advantage has to do with checks and balances, and the fact that money is a commodity'. When the theory was first created the trade was based on the gold standard, meaning gold was the medium of exchange. Since there was a finite supply of gold, trade was kept in check. If a country bought too many goods it ran out of gold and had to cut back on it's foreign consumption. With the dissolution of the gold standard in the 1930's came the rise of fiat currency, money created by government decree. Now a country can buy all the goods it wants just by printing more money. But the force keeping this in check to keep the country from spending like crazy is that the more a country spends the less it's money is worth relative to other currencies (i.e. inflation). However, there are ways to stop a currency from losing value. The first way is to have a strong military and to force the world to use the currency as a medium of exchange, which is what oil is forced is, since all oil is forced to be purchased through the dollar.

Which both Chavez in Venezuela (who was almost ousted by a US endorsed coup two years ago) and Saddam in Iraq was threatening to go off the reservation... hmmm fancy that.

The second way is trade. The cheaper a currency, the cheaper it's goods. So whoever has the cheapest currency can sell the most goods at the lowest price. So if country A buys the currency of country B and takes it out of circulation, this causes the value of currency B to be artificially high and the value of currency A to be artificially low. As a result, country A can export more goods to country B than it would otherwise. Country A can thus destroy the industry of country B by flooding it with cheap goods. In the process country B will have a huge trade debt to country A, since country A only imports ''money'' from country B. If left unchecked country A will eventually be able to dictate policy in country B or be threatened with economic collapse and will eventually control or own country B. In short, the big flaw with comparative advantage is that money is a commodity.

Another flaw in comparative advantage theory is what happens if the market ever becomes saturated beyond it's ability to consume goods and services. How does comparative advantage deal with this unemployment? Should country B lay off half it's workforce because country A has a comparative advantage? As a side note: Since the supply of workers will forevermore be greater than demand, this will cause wages to spiral to the lowest common denominator for the majority of workers.

Mitchell Gore

Posted by: Sid | February 19, 2005 11:22 PM

No prob. I re-read your post after I posted my reply, and saw that I didn't pick up on the clues that you did in fact understand the term and concept correctly as evidenced by your points towards the end of the post. The wording threw me off in the beginning which I didn't catch until the re-read.

Mea culpa.

Mitchell Gore

"Qaida's not going to stop until their recruiting pool has vanished. It won't matter how many countries we drop bombs on or invade." - Posted by: Sid | February 19, 2005 11:19 PM

BINGO!

paul

Again, Howard Dean fails to impress when it comes to foreign policy issues. He is clearly over his head in the discussion, as the debate showed, to me at least.

But that's fine, his role is now (thank God) limited to parroting/selling the Dem party line, which, despite all of the fine debate in these posts, seems still to lack any logical consistency.

The best I can figure is that Dean wants us to get back to some hand holding in North Korea and other such Clinton era nonsense. And, of course global security issues are closely tied to trade and economic issues, but its just not practical to develop an over-arching foreign policy that directly addresses these issues. Dean's rambling on about the environment and poverty in a discussion about terrorism may have appealed to the partisan crowd in Portland, but it is just rhetoric, and really indicates that the Democrats have nothing specific to offer.

As for the issue of soft vs hard power, it seemed very clear that Perle supports the use of both, where Dean seems only interested in soft power. Hard power, used sparingly, goes a long way when it comes to creating the environment for soft power to work, whereas soft power alone inevitably allows bad actors to manipulate the global stage through "diplomacy".

You wrote:

"Perle believes that we were attacked on 9/11 because we were perceived as being weak due to "our failure to respond" to previous attacks, which is a complete farce
Perle contradicted himself again when he said that as the world's greatest power, it's only natural we have become a target. Which is it?"

Absolutely no contradiction here, if you could be objective for one quick minute. I'm sure that if you asked him, Perle would be happy to tell you that the Clinton administration's non-response to Al Qaeda's attacks in the 90s emboldened the terrorists, allowing to think that the world's greatest power was actually "weak".

And finally, it may be true that Al Qaeda may not stop recruiting until their pool has vanished - but isn't that one of the stated objectives of Bush foreign policy - "to kill or capture" as many terrorists as possible? Al Qaeda would have been recruiting just as heavily if we had never invaded Iraq - they really don't need much of an excuse. Their primary issue then pre-9/11 was our presence in Saudi Arabia. Sans Iraq, they would still have a long list of grievances to recruit gullible 17-35 year old Muslims with.

I think that there is a refusal, by many on the left, to acknowledge that Islamic terrorism is a serious threat. Or, if there is occasionally tacit acknowledgement, it is always framed as a product of US foreign policy/imperialism etc. etc. Always.

The Dems will continue to marginalize themselves until they are able to distance themselves from this naive worldview.

Sid

Paul,
Do you honestly believe the Clinton administration did nothing in response to the attacks during the 90s?

Are you aware that the cell responsible for the first WTC attack (remember this happened only one month after Clinton was in office and no one blamed poppy Bush) is in prison now? Are you aware that the cell responsible for the embassy bombings in Africa are in prison? Are you aware that when four of the African embassy guys were caught that intel officials we're able to get critical information about Qaida's operations, MO, and desire to get nuclear weapons out of them without torturing them (see last weeks New Yorker article "Outsourcing Torture" by Jane Mayer.) Are you aware that FBI agent John O'Neill nearly cracked the Cole case and key Qaida cells before he was pushed out of the FBI when Bush came into office? (O'Neill then got a job in security at WTC and was killed on 9/11.)

Are you aware that al Qaida was on the top of the Clinton agenda when his administration left office and that it was not on the agenda of the new Bush administration? Perhaps you missed the news two weeks ago about the 52 hijack warnings that were received from April '01 thru August '01. Interesting that this supposed "classified" information in the 9/11 report wasn't released until after Condi was confirmed.

paul

Sid
I could have been more specific about what I meant by "non response". Of course I know that the Clinton admin had a terror response strategy in place, and can be attributed some successes. I was basically trying to provide what I thought was the rationale for comments made by Perle that were perhaps misinterpreted by the blogger. I suppose I could have just written "response(s)" and meant the same thing. I stand by the original point.

That is, I think in the context of this discussion, I feel that Perle would maintain that the overall response during the Clinton administration was inadequate, and this is one reason (of many) that we would be in the position we are in now. Before you dismiss this as just Clinton bashing - read on. Its about perception (by al Qaeda/bin Laden) rather than reality.

9/11 may or may not have been prevented by a more aggressive anti-terror stance, no one can tell. I would never pin 9/11 on Bill Clinton, as some do. Of course many would like to pin it on George Bush because it happened on his watch - you seem inclined to do so judging by the end of your post. Ultimately, I consider the discussion somewhat pointless. (Should Bush have ordered a pre-emptive strike on Afghanistan with the information that he had? The discussion tends to tie Bush's severest critics up in logical knots. Pointless.)

But it seems very clear that al Qaeda was encouraged by our seeming lack of resolve in the 90s. (I will concede an emphasis on "seeming" - it does not imply Clinton admin intent - only perception - work with me here.) Each major terror attack in the 90s - WTC1/Khobar/
Embassy/Cole, was treated as a criminal act, not an act of war. Fine. Again, Bush may have done the same thing - we'll never know. But post 9/11, the landscape has changed. Al Qaeda knew they were at war with us then, we apparently did not. Now we do.


Paul

Sid

Paul,

What I implied in my comment about the 52 warnings is that the Bush admin wasn't doing enough. I'm not sure they were doing anything. I know a lot of righties who think Richard Clarke is a turncoat, but I hope you get the chance to read his book, Against All Enemies. Despite the rightwing echo-chamber's criticism of Clarke, he is critical of the Clinton administration in the book on many fronts. He does make it clear, however, that terrorism was the most important thing on their agenda. Maybe they weren't doing all the right things, Clarke believes this, but they were doing something. And he also makes it clear that the incoming Bush administration did not understand the threat the way the Clinton admin did, and seemed to be uninterested in making it the top priority. This also comes out in Paul O'Neill's book, The Price of Loyalty. I guess O'Neill is also considered a turncoat by righties. How can so many Republicans suddenly be turncoats.

I'm not saying that Bush could have prevented 9/11, but I am saying based on Clarke's book, the 9/11 report, the 8/6/01 CIA memo to the president, and other information like the Frontline show on FBI agent John O'Neill (not to be confused with Paul O'Neill) that the Bush admin wasn't trying hard enough, despite all the evidence coming in.

If you haven't read Clarke's book, he writes about a blueprint for dealing with terrorism that the Clinton administration had drawn up, with Clarke's help. Part of that blueprint was overthrowing the Taliban. The first phase was to increase military aid to the Northern Alliance. This blueprint was handed over to Condi Rice who now claims she never received such information. She even claims that she never had a conversation with Richard Clarke where he told here that al Qaida was planning more attacks on US interests.

Either Clarke is lying or Rice is. Based on the fact that Rice said that no one would have ever guessed that terrorists would hijack planes and use them as weapons, despite the fact that there was plenty of evidence that that was exactly what they were planning, I'm more willing to believe Clarke.

As far as invading Iraq is concerned, I'm with Dean on this one. I don't think it has made America more secure. And considering the fact that more documents are coming out on FOIA requests that show torture is a widespread problem in the US military and CIA, it's likely we're radicalizing a whole new generation of terrorists who will do everything they can to infiltrate our systems and find our weak spots. It's likely the practice of torture started before Iraq, but Iraq has made it more rampant.

There's an interesting comment in the New Yorker article (mentioned in my previous comment) by a former intel official for the MI5 who says the Americans are making the same mistakes the British did with the IRA in the 1970s. He said that using torture makes things worse and radicalizes an entire population. That's what we're doing.

We weren't prepared to go into Iraq. There was no plan for securing the country after the fall of Saddam. There was no system of justice for dealing with insurgents or those thought to be insurgents. The justice that was used was torture, and some pretty vile forms of it to say the least. The ACLU has received the DoD documents through FOIA requests. You can go to their website and read them. Keep in mind, these are not ACLU documents. They are Department of Defense documents. Our military is responsible for some pretty horrific forms of torture, like pouring kerosene fluid on peoples hands and then lighting them on fire. Many intel experts and scholars have found that trying to get information out of people through torture does not work, and usually the information is rubbish.

Anyway, read the documents, the New Yorker article and Clarke's book. We need a more balanced and comprehensive approach in dealing with the threat of terrorism. Bombs and torture won't work in the long run.

Sid

John-

Something that is interesting in Clarke's book is his whole take on the Lewinsky affair. He was furious with Clinton for having the affair, knowing what was at stake. At the same time he was furious with the Republicans in Congress for tying themselves up over the affair when it was clear terrorism was becoming a huge problem. Clinton couldn't keep his zipper zipped for the country and the Republicans couldn't set aside their hatred of Clinton for the country. It's a pretty sad commentary, but I applaud Clarke for his clarity on the issue and how it impacted the country.

Some might say if Clinton had just kept his pants zipped up then the Republicans wouldn't have had anything to go after, so ultimately it's Bubba's fault. I say that even had it not been for the Lewinksy scandal, the Republicans hated Clinton so much that they were going to do everything they could to bring him down, Monica or no Monica. They would have continued to preoccupy Starr with the Whitewater deal that in the end turned out to be nothing, but gosh darnit they were gonna make it something.

carla

I don't think it's clear at all that our previous responses to terrorism was any impetus to 9/11. In fact, I think that's a pretty silly contention.

Al Qaida isn't an organization that's wed to any nation state. They're a loosely affiliated group of individuals...funded by individuals and groups that aren't any official nation state support source. Invading Afghanistan and Iraq certainly hasn't ended Al Qaida.

Our attempts at closing off their funding sources and support hasn't been overwhelmingly successful either...as they're still able to operate. And they're still coming after us even with these "crackdown" measures in place. There's a solid argument to be made, in fact, that these measures are making terrorism worse.


paul

All of this is interesting enough - analysis of what actually led up to 9/11, where the "fault" may lie and all of that, but still, I think, skirts the larger issue. Unpopular as the notion may be on this site - the real "root" of this problem ultimately lies with the dysfunctional Arab/Islamic world. Richard Clarke's book may be interesting recent history, but I'd rather read Steve Emerson or Bernard Lewis or even Francis Fukuyama to get my mind around the problem. I think the focus on Bush v Clinton foreign policy is a little too much of the forest/trees for me. And, (it would be interesting for someone else on this site to respond tot this) I think Bill Clinton agree with this assessment - just a guess.

The original discussion - soft vs hard power - is much more interesting to me. As mentioned earlier, I think that the recipe is soft power following hard power - neither alone will do. I'm not a big fan of the analogy, but it is a little like the "good cop/bad cop" approach. Simple and a little cliche, but guess what, it works.

As for torture tactics - not really up on the subject, so I can't comment, other than I think that our intelligence and anti-terror efforts are, unfortunately, a work-in-progress. Also, I don't condone what most reasonable people would define as torture, but I do think that the definition has been expanded, and that we are held to a higher standard than the rest of the world when it comes to treatment of, well, everyone else. As we should.

Finally, (Carla) How is it "silly" that our handling of al Qaeda's attacks in the 90s may have encouraged them during the planning and execution of 9/11? Bin Laden is essentially on record saying as much (no reference handy, but confident that I can produce on request). And by the way, this is on both Clinton and Bush - bin Laden essentially saw America as vulnerable and potentially weak - not a Republican or a Dem. I think its pretty silly to think that our handling of al Qaeda in the 1990s gave bin Laden any cause for concern.

You are way off on two points.

First our attempts at closing off private funding sources have been extremely successful.

Funding now most likely comes from Iran and Syria, and from families and individuals in Saudi Arabia, Jordan etc, but the network and system of funding that existed prior to 9/11, particularly the charitable organizations, has been crippled.

Al Qaeda is a dynamic organization, but I would not say it is made up of "individuals" (other than in the literal sense). There are splinter groups, simpatico terrorist groups in places like the Caucusus and Philippines, and the original bin Laden crew all linked to and sometimes called al Qaeda. The paradox that you all seem to be facing is the idea that it is a real group that poses a real threat (Bush is making it worse!) or that it is not much of a threat, (Bush is trying to scare us!).

You say that "There's a solid argument to be made, in fact, that these measures are making terrorism worse". Well, make it. And be specific.

Sid

A majority of liberals, not all - there are some on the fringes just as there is a fringe right that is out of touch, understand there is a threat. We understand it so well that we are extremely passionate about how the threat is being dealt with, and I'm speaking as a card carrying proud liberal. Most of us worry that what the Bush administration is doing is making it worse. It's like they're putting their thumb over a leaky pipe and holding it there with out the real tools to fix the pipe. We know the leak is still there, but nothing is really being done to fix it, except for the thumb, which in the end is not good enough.

A majority of liberals like Dean because he's looking long term and comprehensively. How do we help the moderates in the Arab world become the dominant voice in Islam? Right now, we're not. We're making it worse. The Dept. of Defense recently released a study, their own mind you, about how the US is losing the war for 'hearts and minds' in the Arab world. The study actually stated that the US is going about this the wrong way and that the invasion of Iraq may have exacerbated the situation. Here's the link (pdf)
http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports/2004-09-Strategic_Communication.pdf
I find it interesting that the report was released after the election even though it was ready for release in August.

Also, since you're interested in Islamic fundamentalism and its pull in the arab world, you might find "The End of Faith - religion, terror and the future of reason" (by Sam Harris http://www.samharris.org/) a good read.

And as to doing the hard power deal first and following it with soft power, that doesn't make sense. If you bomb a country, occupy it, incarcerate thousands of its people and then use torture on many of them, it's hard to believe that the people would be interested in adopting your form of "democracy." It's hard to believe that people in that culture would hold you in high regard. That's what soft power is all about: people like you so much that they want to be like you. For example, the concept of soft power is working on the youth of Iran. They don't want the mullahs ruling over them. They don't want a theocracy. They want democracy because they look at America and they like America, at least up until now. I'm not sure what's going on there at this point, but right after 9/11 the Iranian population showed the greatest sense of sorrow in the entire region. A packed soccer stadium in Tehran stood in silence for several minutes before a match. There was nothing like it in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or anyother country in the region. It was the Iranian youth who are the future leaders of their country.

Anyway, check out Sam Harris' site and his book if you're interested in looking ahead. And definitely read the DoD report on Strategic Communications in the Islamic World. And if you haven't seen the documentary Control Room, it's out on DVD, it's a good one.

paul

You ask

"How do we help the moderates in the Arab world become the dominant voice in Islam"

I think that the Bush administration and the neoconservatives, whether you agree or disagree with them, have a very clear answer to this question. Moderates can only have a voice when their governments allow them to, and this is only truly the case under a liberal democratic government, which, up until recently, did not exist in the middle east (oh, except for Israel). The long-term strategic objective of Iraq is to create a "domino" effect of democratic change in the region, which ultimately would allow moderate Islamics to take center stage. Again, agree or disagree, this is the concept. On the other hand, there is no real viable strategy that the Democrats have to help the moderates in the middle east, because they would be hamstrung in dealing with the non-democratic governments of Egypt/SA/etc.

So, the objective is the same - help Islamic moderates, but I'm still waiting for a clear strategy involving "soft" power.

As for Iran

America has the largest popular support in the Islamic world in Syria and Iran, the two most oppressive regimes. (That may not be saying much, looking at our popular support in the rest of the region) I don't think that this has anything to do with hard or soft power. I think that the Iranians simply look at their government and want something else, in particular, democracy. And, I think that the mullahs are fairly nervous, considering their lack of popular support, and the fact that their neighbors just voted. Will that allow reform? And if it does, wouldn't that be a neat example of hard power/soft power?

Finally, thanks for the book recommendations. I try not to read too much current stuff on these issues. Tends to cloud the judgement.

Thanks for the continued dialogue. You should stop by my blog sometime. Not much there yet - still has that new blog smell. I've got salsa, you bring the chips.


Mitchell Gore

Paul

"I think that the Bush administration and the neoconservatives, whether you agree or disagree with them, have a very clear answer to this question."

Their end state (as per their rhetoric) is not far off, but their approach is 180 wrong. You can never instill liberal democratic rule with at the barrel of a gun. Such moves have to gain critical mass form within as a popular movement. In human history it has never been successful with a outside occupying force.

The neo-conservative ideology vis-à-vis ME/foriegn policy is so dichotomously simplistic and take not a shred of historical cultural, and political realities on the ground, prior to invasion into consideration.

Tribal, ethnic, and sectarian fault lines throughout Iraq (specifically) and the ME in general have only been held in check through autocratic rule. To "decapitate" a secular autocratic rule as has occurred in Iraq, and expect a legitimate liberal democratic society and institutions which have popular support to spring up while being occupied by an alien military force, which despite the best efforts by the majority of our forces in theater, are engaged in a sustained series of skirmishes which are only turning the populous against our presence.

If you think 2 years form now that a non-sectarian Gov. will be in place and assuming control of the country, you are dreaming. Already we see that the UIA as a ruling majority, and are (best case likely scenario) going to broker a coalition to form a Gov. with the Kurds that in essence are going to retain a nominal a Kurdish autonomous region in the north and establish Shiria in the rest of the country. Both portions of the ruling coalition have close alliances with Iran and are unified in their opposition to a continued US presence in Iraq.

Again, that is a best case of likely scenarios... having Iran-lite™ instead of a contained secular autocrat, after having flushed approaching $300 billion, over 1,400 of our troops lives, an estimated 100,000 plus Iraqi lives, shredding our standing in the world, undercutting the rule of law and the multilateral institutions we have championed for over half a century... and handed the largest recruiting vehicle and training ground for the disparate radical groups that the United States (in particular) applies the appellation al-Qaeda to (which by the way Usama bin Laden and his direct associates never once used as an self-descriptor for his loose ad hoc assortment of mujahdeen remnants until after 9/11 and we had applied it to them).

As advisorjim over on DailyKos clearly pointed out to those not familiar with the region (i.e. neo-conservatives and most Republicans), here's a little history.  Shiites and Sunnis don't like each other. The disagreement stems from the Shiite belief that Muhammad's cousin, Imam Ali should have been the first caliph, and that the caliphate should have been...wait, who am I trying to kid.  Republican's don't care about this, and liberals already know it. Fine. Sunnis and Shiites hate each other.  Got it?  Good.

So we were getting ready to hold these elections, and parts of the country aren't safe enough.  And Rumsfeld does a little Q & A with himself and says, "Are there parts of the country that aren't safe?  Sure!  Are we worried about it?  A little.  Will 80% of the country be able to vote?  Probably.  Is that good enough?  Why not?"

Here's `why not.'  That 20% of the country that wasn't safe consisted entirely of one minority group. It wasn't like holding elections everywhere in the U.S. except for New York and Texas. It was like holding elections, but only in the "blue states." That should scare the crap out of Bush-backers. Could we have had successful elections in only the "blue states?" Absolutely! Would we be better off then we are now? Almost certainly. Would Republicans consider it a triumph of democracy? Ah...probably not.

So when we as Democrats said "the elections won't work" we didn't mean "because we think voter turnout will be 0%."  What we meant that without it being safe enough for Sunnis to vote, and with assurances that their rights would be secured regardless of the outcome. Because otherwise we're allowing a segment of that society that has been oppressed for over 30 years to have uncontested political power!  And I dare say a rather justified need for revenge!

As you might imagine the subtlety of this point was lost on neo-conservatives and right-wing radio, and it got really obnoxious.  "First Democrats say we have to have elections! Now they say we're not ready!  They just can't make up their minds!" They just don't get it. No, that's not true. They do get it. They just don't want their audience to get it.  So they jump up and down, and hold their breath, and call Dems `fart head' until their audience laughs and claps and says `he called them fart heads!'  And once again all is right in neo-con America.

As to a "free and democratic Iraq" spreading democracy throughout the region, answer this:  What if the people democratically elect a radical, hard-line government?  That's why I wasn't excited on Election Day.  We heard stories about huge levels of voter turnout in the Shia and Kurdish districts, but in the Sunni districts turnout consisted of about 10 guys and a goat with an ink-stained hoof.  Whenever anyone called in to a right-wing radio show to point this out, the host would invariably say "you just can't give Bush credit for anything, can you?"

Needless to say I was relieved when the potentially hard-line United Islamic Alliance only received 48% of the vote.  Whew!  Dodged a bullet there!  If they were able to form a majority government then they could ride roughshod over the Kurds and Sunnis.  As it is they'll have to form a coalition government with one of the secular political parties before they can draft a constitution.

Then I heard that there was a complicated formula used to determine the number of seats being allocated to the parties in the legislature.  No cause for alarm, I thought.  Surely the administration realized that Sunni turnout was going to be terrible. This formula will give them representation disproportionate to their share of the vote.  That's not exactly `democracy' as I'd choose to define it, but in this case it's almost certainly a good thing.

Wait a tic... that gave even more seats the Shite bloc  How'd we screw that up? "We" made up the freaking formula! So now a democratically elected, Shia-dominated legislature will decide on a Prime Minister between Ibrihim Al-Jafarri and Ahmed Chalabi. And here's how bad it is...Chalabi is potentially the LESSER of two evils. And HE'S an Iranian spy!   The other guy, Al-Jafarri, also has close ties to Iran, and wants to keep Iraqi oil fields nationalized. Thus destroying the one remaining reason Bush had for starting this war in the first place. Helping Big Oil.

So here's how this thing plays out. The Shia-majority government sets about instituting a constitution based in the Sharia. That puts Republicans in the awkward position of having to come up with reasons why they want the Bible in their own government, but don't want the Koran in Iraq's. While that's going on the United Iraqi Alliance trains Iraqs new army. While few Iraqis were willing to volunteer for the US-backed CPA's military, I'm sure the duly elected UIA won't have the same problem.  

The insurgency continues. The UIA government remains all `smiles' and `concessions.'  "We want to be the party of all Iraqis!" U.S. troops continue to take casualties acting as a police force.  Since the UIA has a ready fighting force (legally or otherwise as I'm not sure they're allowed to raise a military, but I don't see how we could or would stop them), they offer to take up policing duties in the `Sunni Triangle.'  A weary U.S. public demands that we take them up on their offer.  Enough Americans have died.

Now a majority Shiite military takes up as a police force for a majority Sunni population.  For those of you playing along at home, this is where the bad stuff begins.  "Operation: Inevitable Civil War" moves to the middle-game.  Sunnis, pissed off at having no seat at the table, and at losing their power in the first place, continue the insurgency against the new government.  The new government, bound even less by the Geneva Convention than we pretend to be, begins putting down the insurgency.  It goes poorly for all.

The writing of the constitution continues.  Keep in mind that any Iraqi constitution has to be ratified by all three districts (by `super majorities' if I'm not mistaken).  If at the end of the 10 month process no constitution has been ratified, then the whole process starts over from the beginning.  New national elections, new assemblies, new Presidents and Prime Ministers.  

Something tells me the UIA didn't come all this way just to say, "Do over!"  So by hook or by crook they start applying leverage to get the constitution passed. The Kurds are caught between the Shias to the south, and their Iranian allies to the east. It won't take much cajoling to convince them to drop the idea of an independent Kurdistan. As to the Sunnis, if they don't play ball then it's open civil war, and they are outgunned and outnumbered. That's were the really, really bad stuff happens.

At the end of the day nobody gets what they want out of Iraq. A duly elected theocratic Iraqi government with close ties to Iran is in power, but fighting a civil war. And not just between Iraqis, but between Sunnis and Shiites throughout the region. This destabilization continues to serve as a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, since we kicked over the ant hill in the first place, and produces more terrorists, not less. The U.S. military either stands between two well armed sides in a brewing civil war, or checks out of the region and all of our brave men and women died for nothing. There is no private development of Iraq's oil fields.  The Iraqi government helps to prop up an ailing Iranian theocracy, thus denying reformers the opportunity to take their country back from religious extremists.

This is why the neo-con approach to what nobody disputed would be a better situation if it could be brought about (i.e. a liberal democratic government in Iraq)


"So, the objective is the same - help Islamic moderates, but I'm still waiting for a clear strategy involving "soft" power."

Well, it would never happen with the oil CEO presidency in power here in the United States, and it would take at least a decade (which is worth it seeing as we are already facing a losing battle to help moderates gain traction in the region, and are going to be there for that long anyway.

It involves shifting our enough of our economy to a renewable domestic fuel base, such as algae production based bio-diesel. Once we can make practical an economic intensive/lever for the countries within the region to liberalize the economic, political and legal systems from within, while disengaging our physical presence in the region, and simultaneously use the already established economic leverage to make a legitimate and substantive push for a workable (for both sides) two-state solution in Israel.

There would also be a lot to do on repairing the damage done to us globally on the diplomatic front in most of the world and in the region specifically.

paul

Of course, its our "oil CEO Presidency". I forgot. Everything was just great before Haliburton took over the white house. Honestly, if you toned down this type of silly rhetoric, you might actually be taken seriously by people outside of your echo chamber.

Otherwise, you seem to have found the facts to fit your argument. Shiites and Kurds and Sunnis will never get along. Lots of anecdotal evidence of course. I mean, the Shiites and the Sunnis "hate each other". Every Shiite hates every Sunni and vice versa. Problem with this is that the large majority of Iraq is relatively mixed. There are Sunnis in the south - Shia in the North etc. Iraqis in general think that this stereotype - three groups just waiting to take advantage or kill each other - is naive and a little annoying.

I'm always dismayed at the argument from the left and the right that Iraqis and Muslims in general just can't handle/don't deserve/aren't ready for democracy. As if they are somehow different from you and me. This view has always struck me as elitist and bigoted.

Yow weren't excited on Iraqi election day because, admit it, there would have been no outcome that would have excited you. The view that Iraq will fall apart is overly pessimistic. It won't be perfect, but I'd make a bet with you that two years out - you will be wrong about the nature of their govt. My prediction is that they develop in the way Turkey has, incorporating Islam into the government, not the other way around.

Finally, two state solution, coming right up!. No intifadah, dialogue between Israel and Palestinians resumed - all on GW's watch. That must drive you nuts!

Of course, I'm sure that's headed for disaster too. Not sure the Palestians are ready for democracy. Need a strongman.

Cheers.

Sid

After Christian Foldenvenzel (sp?), our very own KOPB reporter here in Oregon, returned from reporting in Iraq he had some interesting things to say. When he asked Iraqis what they thought about democracy, he said they weren't interested in it because they think it's about alcohol, pornography, crime, etc. and they don't want that in Iraq. He said they seemed to be more interested in a religious theocracy that would secure the country and keep what they see as "western values" out of their country.

The other thing he noted was that 14 very large US military bases are under construction. He said huge concrete walls that "look very permanent" we're going up around these future bases. When Howard Dean said he estimated we would be there for 10 years before the invasion, I think he may have been off.

Carla

Paul:

There is no evidence that Al Qaida would have been discouraged to plan the attacks of 9/11 with the kind of "crackdown" we're seeing now. Your contention still remains silly. Bin Laden in his current incarnation was born in the Reagan era when we failed to keep our promise to rebuild Afghanistan after the Soviets left. Clinton went after Bin Laden as aggressively as he could under the circumstances. And frankly it was much more aggressively than Bush has.

I believe (as do most other liberals that I know) that Al Qaida is a very real threat. The problem is...we're stoking the fires of that threat while simultaneously failing to protect ourselves from it. We have some very real problems in Homeland Security that a color coded alert does nothing to address. The lack of funding for our ports (specifically container checks) and security lapses at airports are just part of the problem. We also have a vastly underfunded Coast Guard as well.

The flip side of that coin is that Bush uses the threat of terrorism for political gain. And that's where the scare tactics come in. The color alert fluxes when there's a threat of domestic problem for him...instead of a real terrorist threat. It's creepy how the Republicans use terrorism as a bludgeon and at the same time fail to provide adequate funding and assistance to the regions of the country that are most at risk. (Why are we giving millions of dollars to Wyoming for Homeland Security?)

In terms of making terrorism worse, we can start with recruitment and expansion. Al Qaida has spread to over 60 countries according to the CIA, where before Iraq's invasion it was right around 40. Further, even according to Condoleeza Rice, Al Qaida was not a presence in Iraq until after our invasion.

Saudi money still flows to Al Qaida. They've only frozen about 4% of the accounts/money/assets to which Saudis contribute to the organization.

Sid

Carla posted:
"I believe (as do most other liberals that I know) that Al Qaida is a very real threat. The problem is...we're stoking the fires of that threat while simultaneously failing to protect ourselves from it."

Couldn't have said it better myself!

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